Thousands of undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students celebrated their collegiate careers on an overcast, windy morning in front of the Capitol and an audience of 19,000 friends and family.
The two-hour ceremony took place on the National Mall between 4th and 7th streets and included speeches from University officials, students and honorary degree recipients like keynote speaker and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
An early rain cleared the way for a dry ceremony, but wind muffled the speaker’s microphones at times and the morning was gloomily cloudy. As a precaution, the University had 25,000 blue, GW embossed ponchos and 25,000 bottles of water on hand for the graduates and their families and friends, University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said.
The Commencement ceremony was broadcast on the local ABC 7 affiliate and webcast live on the station’s Web site, Schario said. Schario did not disclose how much the University paid for the broadcasts, though she said webcasting the ceremony was something the University has wanted to do for some time.
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences graduate Eric Struening said that the damp atmosphere was the only downside.
“The speech was Rahmtastic – straight and to the point,” Struening said. “The only thing disappointing about the ceremony was the weather.”
During the Commencement exercises, University President Steven Knapp bestowed honorary degrees on Emanuel, Jeanne Narum – the founder and director of Project Kaleidoscope, a group dedicated to building and sustaining undergraduate programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and John Safer, who is a sculptor, banker and real estate developer.
Safer told students to pursue their interests, citing his own multi-faceted career, which includes jobs in the Air Force, real estate and art.
“Throughout all of that, that was never my focus in life. My focus was always my art and my sculpture and I tried to spend at least half my waking hours on that sculpture,” Safer said. “I tried to create beauty where there previously was none.”
Student speaker Naomi Rapp’s address noted a number of shared GW experiences among the graduates, from the annoyance of motorcades to the mysterious content of popular late-night street vendor Manouch’s GW sauce. She emphasized the importance of taking risks in life, explaining that the regrets that “really eat away at you” stem from what people opt not to do.
“I triple-dog-dare you to take those risks and live without regret,” Rapp said.
Cosmin Florescu, another student speaker, will become a U.S. citizen this summer after first immigrating with his family in 1991 and said after the ceremonies that he hopes his audience walks away from his speech with a feeling that they can surmount the challenges that await them after graduation.
“We’ve been through some pretty tough times before and we’ve overcome adversity,” he said after the ceremony. “So we have what it takes. We have the skills.”
The University had planned for up to 5,000 graduates to attend, but 700 audience members were allowed to move forward into the sections left unused by the graduating class. Some parents reported arriving at the Mall in the early morning hours to ensure they got a good seat.
“We got here at [7 a.m.],” said Mina Holdman. “We didn’t come all the way from L.A. to sit in the back.”
In his keynote address, Emanuel referred to the tough job market, something CCAS graduate Chase Carpenter said he was all too aware of.
“[Graduation] feels great now, but ask me again in a week when I’m living at home with my parents and have no income,” Carpenter said.
-Dan Greene, Emily Cahn and Matt Rist contributed to this report.